Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Immigrant Literature and Immigrant I

I just got back from a conference on "Immigrant Literature" in Bruxelles/Brussels. Three intense days in Europe that surprisingly refreshed me and recharged my batteries. Maybe because over there men still court me and desire me and invite me for dinner while here in NYC, after so many waves of feminism and scares of sexual harassment, all you/I get from men is friendship. Which I appreciate immensely of course, it makes me feel safe and focus on my work, but sometimes you/I just need intensity, passion, desire, strong emotions. However, relationship-intensity carried for a long time has been harmful for my career, that's why I get so much done here in NYC... I'm back home, cuz Manhattan is my home now and I love it. Can't live without it. But I can live without intensity and desire. I guess.
So - immigrant literature. Big discussion on that in Europe as countries and nations are not so "pure" and clearly defined anymore. For me, coming from the multi-ethnic NYC, a microcosm of the world, the discussion wasn't so relevant. But they loved me and my poem Google me! seems to be extremely successful everywhere, in Bruxelles too, even in multiple simultaneous translation (yeah, the conference - organized by EUNIC - was in that kinda big round room for UE meetings, with lots of microphones, a button to push when you speak, interpreters in little booths displayed in a circle around the room etc). The participants were immigrant writers who write in a second language and many scholars, most of them German. The other Romanian present was Marius Daniel Popescu, a very interesting guy who lives in Switzerland and won the prestigious Robert Walzer award for his first novel written in French: Wolf's Symphony. The guy struck me as an authentic and genuine writer with lots of talent. For living. I have to read the novel first to speak about his writing but my guts tell me I'll like it. We were put up at Sheraton Hotel in beautiful rooms, so the 'escape' to Europe was really a good idea as I decided to go only to conferences/festivals where I am treated like a writer who matters, I can't take shit anymore.
And for the records I copy below the statement that I wrote for the conference. We had to write a personal statement about the immigrant experience and our work. It's a bit too serious, but hey - bear with me, it was for the EUNIC/UE conference. Here we go:

STATEMENT – Saviana Stanescu

I grew up in the totalitarian system run by the 
dictator Ceausescu. As the other members of my 
generation – the baby-boom generation created by Ceausescu’s prohibition of abortion and 
contraceptives in late 60s – I used to escape from the daily 
poverty, oppression and misery by taking refuge 
in my imagination. Books and theatre were our 
means of survival and joy. 

Fifty years of communism created a particular 
aesthetic in our country: things could not be told directly as they were, so writers and 
actors developed metaphorical and encoded ways of addressing social and political issues we 
were concerned about. 
For instance, we had our own idiosyncratic Hamlets, sunk in 
their subtext, philosophically declaiming that something was rotten in the country…

After the fall of communism in 1989, I enthusiastically started to work as 
a journalist in the “new democracy” Romania. As many of my fellow students in Bucharest, I had huge hopes and confidence in the new world emerging around us, as we HAD to be the ones bringing change. Hence a few more years of my life spent on dramatic living instead of dramatic writing. I published my first book of poetry only in 1994 and wrote my first play four years later, in a workshop led by London’s Royal Court Theatre artists. 

In 1990, Caryl Churchill came to Bucharest for a 
week and she wrote the masterpiece Mad Forrest 
about the Romanian Revolution. It took me more than 10 years to be able to write about the same 
event - the revolution in which I fully participated and in which two of my friends got 
arrested and one killed. 

Waxing West is my play about the Romanian Revolution and generally about collective traumas 
and the ways in which they affect the individual. 
It’s a dramatic but funny meditation on the fact 
that we cannot get rid of our Past, we are 
conditioned by the circumstances of our birth and 
upbringing. Wherever I go or live, I cannot 
actually escape from Romania, Romania is 
imprinted in my DNA, it’s distilled in my blood. 

I was able to write Waxing West – the play that won me the 2007 New York Innovative Award for Outstanding Script - only in the US, in English, after my first year in New York, where I arrived (with a Fulbright grant) early September 2001. It was quite a shock for me to get directly into the 9/11 events. I became aware 
of the Twin Towers only after they disappeared. The present absence….. 

Waxing West parallels Daniela’s story with Romania’s struggling to find itself in the wreckage of freedom it seized through bringing down Communism. Finally, both Daniela who comes to America and Romania back in Europe are lost amid contradictory ideals of progress. However far Daniela and Romania attempt to advance, the play reminds us how the specter of Ceausescu’s regime, personified by the return of the Ceausescus as vampires, haunts the unconscious memory as an indelible phantom of the collective mind.

But keep this in your mind: the play is a comedy! Painful truths are most effective when delivered with a grain of sugar/humor. Yes, the new writing in Romania finally addresses some of those difficult truths and realities. We owe that to ourselves as humans and artists. We can’t avoid it. In literature, theatre and film. (See the multi-awarded movies “4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days” or “The Death of Mr Lazarescu”). We need to exorcise the past and the grim realities in order to move forward. As we do move forward.

Aurolac Blues, my play published by Kraus and Smith, is a sweet story about Elvis and Madona, two Gypsy street kids from Bucharest, addicted to the cheap drug named AUROLAC (a silver paint they huff from a plastic bag). They dream of America as they imagine it through their McDonald’s experience and the “heritage” of their names.

The new play I am working on - For a Barbarian woman - takes my concerns and explorations a step further. It interweaves a present-day love story between a Romanian woman and an American soldier from the NATO base in Constanta (a Romanian city at the Black Sea, built on the ruins of the ancient city TOMIS where the Roman poet Ovid was exiled two millennia ago, in 8 AD) and a fictional relationship between Ovid and a Barbarian woman from Tomis.

The concept for this project sprung out of my collection of poems entitled “Letters from a barbarian woman” that I wrote in response to Ovid’s ancient letters from Tomis (EPISTULAE EX PONTO). The play metaphorically touches on the contradictions of civilization and the primitive, conquered and conqueror, power and poverty, rational and irrational. Ovid’s voluminous correspondence from his exile has been used as source material, as well as recent news from Romania.

My recent collection of poetry GOOGLE ME! aims to capture my creative response to the immigrant experience and the on-going love relationship with the English language. It inhabits that inbetween space between cultures, where one needs to constantly negotiate her values. GOOGLE ME! is a book dedicated to the global gods of internet and migration. And yes, please, take out your laptops and google me! ☺

As you could see, my writing in English – a language that I love for its richness, beauty, subtlety, specificity and, of course, power – is meant to give a larger platform to my stories. To increase the chances of my voice to be heard. My immigration to the US means the immigration into the English language and into a cultural context that allows freedom of expression and endless opportunities for a writer who has something to say and the talent, the drive and the ambition to say it. Again and again and again. Until the world hears it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

On the roofs

in Williamsburg, with Piotr Redlinski (an amazing professional photographer, look in the New York Times for his photos), Paul Bargetto and Christine Richter. A photo shot session for a book cover.
I never thought it's so hard to be a "model". It was strange not to smile, the automatic reflex when someone takes your picture. But Piotr asked us to be serious and arranged our bodies in sophisticated compositions.
A strange sensation of giving up your control... a very interesting feeling, difficult to capture in a thought-shot.